We have previously written that being approved for Social Security Disability benefits is often a long and arduous battle. And after all appeals have been exhausted, many deserving individuals are turned away. Last year, administrative law judges approved only about 56 percent of cases that went before them.
Why should it be so difficult to receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits if you have a disability that does not allow you to work? Perhaps this is the question we should be asking instead of scrutinizing judges who approve most claims that they review. Sadly, administrative law judges with high rates of benefits approval are often accused of “rubber-stamping” claims.
Recently, Republican legislators from the House Oversight Committee grilled four administrative law judges at a congressional hearing. These four are among a list of about 200 judges accused of essentially being too lenient in awarding benefits to be paid by a program that is already low on funds.
But are these judges actually doing anything wrong? Even if they approve nearly every case that comes before them, isn’t this better than denying claims solely in order to look tough? Defending his high rate of approvals, one judge noted that “all I do is concentrate on each case, one at a time.”
Cases that go before an administrative law judge are claims that have been denied at least once by state-office workers. Many have been rejected twice. It is important to note, however, that an administrative judge may decide to approve a previously rejected claim for a number of legitimate reasons, including:
- Hearings before administrative law judges are the first opportunity for applicants to present expert witnesses and testimony
- A claimant’s medical condition may have gotten worse in the time between the initial claim and their appeal before a judge
- Administrative law judges typically have more legal training and expertise than workers who first review claims
Social Security Disability is a resource that should be available to all Americans who qualify for it. Instead of making it harder to qualify (and vilifying judges with high approval rates), why not talk about ways to improve funding for the program? That seems like a much more productive conversation to have.
Source: Boston Herald, “Report: Social Security judges rubber-stamp claims,” June 10, 2014